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Yoon’s pick for fiscal chief vows to back extra budget despite runaway inflation

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (right) announces the first eight Cabinet nominees at his transition committee’s office in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (right) announces the first eight Cabinet nominees at his transition committee’s office in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s finance minister nominee said Sunday that he will seek parliamentary approval of an extra budget to support the self-employed and small businesses hit hardest by COVID-19, despite runaway inflation eating into many household budgets.

Rep. Choo Kyung-ho, currently a two-term lawmaker of Yoon’s People Power Party, said inflation cannot be the reason to avoid increasing spending.

“How we can manage to benefit from the extra budget while shielding us from its side effect (like inflationary pressure) is the very concern I have,” Choo told reporters minutes after his nomination as finance minister who will double as Yoon’s deputy prime minister from May 10.

Also pledging to take steps to curb inflation, the nominee, however, said the government appears to have limited resources to combat the economic woes.

Yoon’s transition team has been working on the budget plan Yoon had pledged to be worth 50 trillion won ($40.7 billion), but neither the team nor Choo, who is in charge of setting out Yoon’s agenda at the transition committee, has yet to confirm the size of extra spending.

“We’re in close consultations with the Finance Ministry and I believe we can show what the budget would look like in late April or early May,” Choo said.

Choo’s appointment marks a major shift in South Korea’s approach to the economy, as the nominee looks to reverse the current Moon Jae-in government’s “income-led growth” initiative, a plan aimed at raising minimum wages to see the hike leading to more spending and buoyed business sentiment.

Choo instead highlighted deregulation, saying companies should have freedom to run businesses as they see fit to provide the momentum for economic growth, as long as they face consequences when wrongdoing is reported.

Choo is expected to replace Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, the longest serving finance minister since 1993 when Korea began a democratic rule after years of military dictatorship. Choo, who began his career as a mid-level official in 1983, is four years senior to Hong.

From 1983 to 2009, Choo worked mostly at the Finance Ministry, and briefly at the presidential office in 1998 to support senior secretary for economic affairs. The following year, he was sent to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development as Korea’s senior economist.
 
In 2006, Choo took on his second and last overseas post at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as Korea’s minister counselor.

Upon returning to Seoul in 2009, he was assigned to the Financial Services Commission, where he later became vice chairman between 2011 and 2013. Choo served as first vice minister of the Finance Ministry until 2014.

In July 2014, Choo took on his last government job as policy chief under the guidance of the prime minister. He left the job in 2016 and in the same year ran for a National Assembly seat, and has since won two elections, with the last one taking place in 2020.
 
Choo now sits on the strategy and finance committee overseeing the Finance Ministry, having chaired the budget and accounts committee two years ago when the legislator began his second term. In March this year, Choo stepped down from his role as senior vice deputy floor leader of the People Power Party.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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